I’ve spent my whole life in Southern NJ.  The 2nd Congressional District is by far the largest geographically of New Jersey’s twelve.  Comprising vast areas of pineland forest, agricultural farmland, quaint historical communities and densely developed coastal areas, our District is wonderfully diverse both in terms of its landscape and our people. 

Together, as we are emerging from a once-in-a-century upheaval of a global pandemic and the many changes to our daily lives –– I’ve been struck by how many people from so many different walks of life have reached out to discuss the growing problem of unbridled development of enormous shipping distribution warehouses across the state of New Jersey. Covid-19 spawned explosive growth of online shopping – and these new, mammoth distribution centers are an unforeseen consequence of that growth. 

But, this rapid open-land development here in southern New Jersey has profound implications: our farmland and wilderness are being voraciously consumed and, I believe, often misused. I’ve spoken with many people, residents of rural, urban, and suburban areas who now suffer from new sources of air and noise pollution as fleets of tractor-trailers rumble through their towns at all hours of the day and night. Diesel exhaust has been linked to increased instances of asthma, heart disease, stroke and neurological disorders. More often than not, the negative impacts of traffic congestion and property value have not even been considered as part of the permit application and zoning approvals that allow these enormous distribution facilities to be constructed. Also overlooked is the enormous impact placed on adjacent communities’ water treatment and sewerage processing capabilities.

It’s time we seriously rethink this! Recently, state legislation has been proposed in Trenton that would mandate the inclusion of neighboring towns in the evaluation and approval process for proposed warehouse centers. That’s a great start – and it should go further.  By enacting “regional” coordination of these warehouse distribution centers, we can require that any new warehouse facilities that are approved be self-sustainable and emission neutral.  The $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill just signed this week includes billions for the implementation of electric vehicle charging stations – we should take full advantage of these federal funds and require that all the trucks transporting materials in and out of these warehouse facilities be clean, quiet electric vehicles and thus make these hubs emission free.

Wouldn’t it be rich if a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic emboldened us to pursue profound and positive changes to the land on which we live and the air we breathe?  It’s time we reexamine the ways we structure our regional supply chains and work to equitably coordinate site-selection for these distribution hubs. I also think it is essential that the resolution of these warehouse sprawl issues is met in ways that are environmentally benign and economically beneficial to the residents of the local 2nd District communities that choose to host them.

I’d be interested to know what you think!